Wildlife and Reforestation in Brazil

Expedition Briefing


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COVID-19 Enhanced Health and Safety Measures

This project has been amended to incorporate several health and safety measures to allow responsible fielding of teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please refer to the COVID Disclosure Form for more details. 

Before Fielding 
  • Vaccination against COVID-19 is required for all participants. Staying up to date with your vaccinations, including receiving booster doses if available, is strongly encouraged. 
  • Become familiar with and abide by the local COVID requirements up to date vaccinations, including boosters, mandatory quarantine, or other guidelines. 
  • Do not travel to your Earthwatch expedition or program if you: 
    • are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell), 
    • are confirmed or suspected as having COVID-19 within the past 10 days
    • have been in close contact with someone suspected or confirmed as having COVID-19 in the past 10 days 
  • You are highly encouraged to take a COVID-19 test one day before or the morning of your rendezvous, before meeting up with your team.
While in the Field 
  • Face masks will be required in line with local regulations and/or when instructed by project leadership. In areas or on projects where mask use is no longer required, the use of face masks will be optional. Any individual who wishes to continue to mask will be supported in that decision. 
  • Participants and project staff will continue to wash or sanitize hands frequently and maintain physical distance whenever possible. 
  • All team members will be asked to monitor their own health through daily health checks. 
  • Recreational activities may be limited or require additional face mask requirements to reduce the risk of exposure to team members or to the local community.
  • Meals and activities will take place outside whenever possible. 
  • Ventilation will be increased indoors and within enclosed vehicles whenever possible. 

The Research

The Atlantic forest extends along the coast of Brazil, stretching over the rolling mountains of the Serra dos Órgãos mountain range to the mangrove forests on the coast. The forest is thought to have originally covered 390,000–580,000 square miles, but now it has shriveled to a small fraction of its original span. Only 11.6% of the natural vegetation cover remains, and the forested areas that still stand are extremely disconnected from one another.

This forest plays a significant role in the global carbon budget, contains an important share of all plant and animal species in the region, and is economically critical for national and international markets. Preserving these ecosystem functions is critical not only to Brazil, but also to the world, as Latin American forests make up about 27% of global forest cover. However, preserving this landscape is becoming more difficult than ever before as climate change further degrades the forests. According to the United Nations, tropical South America may be one of the regions most affected by global climate change.

The deforestation of the Atlantic forest and its susceptibility to climate change exacerbate each other. The fragmentation of the forest has profound impacts on the surrounding landscapes, as native vegetation plays an important role in mitigating erosion. As the forest shrinks it can no longer effectively regulate local rainfall and temperature or store carbon. In turn this makes the area more susceptible to the harmful effects of climate change.

Recognizing the dire need to not only preserve the Atlantic forest, but also to restore it, Brazil’s government, conservation organizations, and NGOs have invested in large-scale reforestation efforts. For these projects to be successful, they need to not only restore the trees, but also the ecosystem functions of the original forest. Currently, there is little research on how much and in what ways reforestation restores an ecosystem. While reforestation is urgently needed, strong scientific data is essential to making sound and sustainable decisions.

Mammals act as an essential part of ecosystems, regulating a variety of interactions between animals at every level of the food chain (Estes et al. 2011). Small terrestrial mammals, like rodents, comprise the largest and most diverse group of mammals in many ecosystems. This group is usually the main prey for many other species and directly affects the composition of the plant community by eating and dispersing seeds. Therefore, the number and types of mammals in an area is a valuable indicator of how well the ecosystem is functioning.

This project will investigate populations of small, medium, and large mammals, from the small Southeastern four-eyed opossums (Philander frenatus) to the large puma (Puma concolor), to address the effectiveness of reforestation to restore mammal populations in the Atlantic Forest. Long-term monitoring of these mammal populations will give stakeholders significant insight into how to best manage forests and reforestation efforts to maximize mammalian recolonization.

Research Aims

The main goal of this study is to establish and implement a long-term monitoring program for mammal populations in reforested and control areas before, during, and after reforestation actions in the Atlantic forest. To achieve this, we will use a robust field protocol (BACI) to assess both the success of reforestation efforts and how those efforts are impacting mammal populations. This study focuses primarily on collecting population information about mammals in different habitat types: reforested stands, sites with pastures and small forest remnants, and sites of continuous forest.

Volunteers will assist in setting live traps and camera traps. The small and medium mammals collected in the live traps will be weighed, measured, sexed, marked with an ear tag, and then released. The camera traps will collect images of the larger mammals moving throughout the reserve, providing information about animals that are more difficult to capture and handle. The data collected from the reforested areas will be compared to the data from the two areas that have not been reforested to determine how mammal populations are responding to this new habitat.

We will also be monitoring the success of the reforestation effort. Volunteers will measure the growth of planted species and changes in vegetation structure, including measuring the diameter of the trees (to assess growth) and the amount of canopy coverage. Volunteers will also work directly on the reforestation efforts by processing seeds, weeding, and organizing the nursery, and sorting seeds by species. Depending on the season, some groups will have the opportunity to plant the seedlings in degraded areas.

The project aims to answer the following questions:

  • Is the reforestation being followed by the re-establishment of mammal populations?
  • Which mammal species occupy reforested areas? Which do not?
  • Are ecosystem processes being lost by the absence of specialized mammal species?
  • Is there a succession of mammal species in the reforestation process? Does it follow a pattern?

This project aims to combine ecological global thinking and local action to mitigate ongoing global changes. The volunteers on this project will be participating in the first ecological research on reforestation involving mammals in the Atlantic forest.

How You Will Help

REGUA consists of 6,700 hectares of farmland, fragmented forest, and reforested stands, and is home to 480 bird species, 73 amphibian species, and 61 species of mammals, including the endangered Southern wooly spider monkey or muriqui (Brachyteles arachnoides) and the elusive puma (Puma concolor). Volunteers will spend most of their time in the field, experiencing this rich biodiversity. You will help collect information on the activities of mammals inside the reserve, measure the success of reforestation, and help with reforestation efforts. In addition, you will help catalog the data you collect.

As part of this team, you will:

  • Conduct mammal surveys: You will spend much of your time collecting data on mammal activity in different types of forests. You will be trained to install camera traps and live traps both on the ground and in the canopy. Throughout your stay, you’ll collect the recordings from the camera traps, and handle and process the small mammals, such as Southeastern four-eyed opossums (Philander frenatus), caught in the live traps (not obligatory). You will spend some time helping to enter data recorded in the field into the project’s database.
  • Measure the success of reforestation: While in the field you will also help to measure the growth and health of reforested areas. You will mark, measure tree diameter, the proximity of other trees, tree condition, and the canopy coverage of the area. You may also help to maintain hiking trails throughout the reserve as needed.
  • Help with reforestation activities: The crux of this project is the effort to reforest the Atlantic forest region. You will have the opportunity to aid in this effort by harvesting seeds from the forest, processing the seeds, organizing the seeds by species, and organizing and weeding the nursery. Depending on the season, most teams will also have the opportunity to plant saplings in reforested areas, giving them a protected home for decades to come.

Life in the Field

During the first two days, you will go on an orientation hike with the Earthwatch scientist or a staff member and spend time in the laboratory learning the techniques to be used. You will then practice the various jobs under staff supervision. You will also be given lectures on topics such as an introduction to Mammals, the theory behind the project, the methods to be used, and the plan of action.


Weather and research needs can lead to changes in the daily schedule. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

The team will be divided into groups, with the composition changing frequently to allow everyone to get to know each other. The tasks are varied enough that each volunteer will usually find a niche and feel satisfied with his or her contribution to the team effort.

When the team is not working, there are many activities that contribute to team development. Each evening there will be time for discussions about the progress of the research and feedback from the volunteers.

In the exciting world of ecological field research, there is often a blurry line between work and play. Many volunteers find the “work” to be enjoyable, and some have even found it to be a life-changing experience. You will most likely experience a steep learning curve over the first few days of the project and will be pleasantly surprised at how much you have learned and accomplished by the end of the project.

  • Day 1: Arrive at field station, introductions, and dinner.
  • Day 2: Travel to Rainforest Reserve, orientation walk, followed by training on research tasks.
  • Days 3–4: Fieldwork
    • 7:00 a.m.: Breakfast
    • 8:00 a.m.: Fieldwork
    • 12:00 p.m.: Lunch
    • 1:00 p.m.: Fieldwork
    • 2:30 p.m.: Fieldwork/ Nursery work
    • 6:00 p.m.: Dinner
    • 7:30 p.m.: Discussion and planning time
    • 8:30 p.m.: Recreational time (good time for night walks, talking to other biologists or visitors, and catching up on emails)
  • Day 5: One recreational day (this day is not fixed and may occur earlier depending on the team’s energy). On Day 5, volunteers will have the option to bird watch and/or hike in the Atlantic Forest along set hiking trails.
  • Day 6: Fieldwork
    • 7:00 a.m.: Breakfast
    • 8:00 a.m.: Fieldwork
    • 12:00 p.m.: Lunch
    • 2:30 p.m.: Fieldwork/Nursery work 
    • 6:00 p.m.: Dinner
    • 7:30 p.m.: Finish all projects and data entry, 1-week team members will pack for their departure on Day 7.
  • Day 7: Depart for the airport in the morning 8:30 p.m.
  • Bird watching: (There are now over 470 species of birds that have been confirmed at REGUA in a bird list with English and scientific names)
  • Hiking: (REGUA has an extensive network of trails that take you deep into lowland Atlantic Forest, through restored lowland wetlands and past unspoilt rivers and waterfalls. The most regularly used tourist trails are clearly marked with colored posts every 50 meters and regularly cleared and maintained.)
  • Photography: (there will be plenty of opportunities for photos, especially in the nearby wetlands which have shelter/hides and an observation tower where animals can be observed in their natural environment)

Accommodations and Food

* Please note that not every expedition has couples’ or singles accommodations available. Please call or email Earthwatch to check for availability prior to reserving your space(s) on the team.


The Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) Conservation Centre is equipped with six small cottages, each with 2–3 beds. The cottages each have their own toilet and shower with hot water, and 110V electricity. The houses are also equipped with their own small lounge and basic furniture. Staff can provide laundry service at $3.00 per piece.

The houses are adjacent to the project’s restored wetlands with marked trails that provide stunning views of the forest and Serra dos Órgãos mountains.

Single and couples’ rooms are available but will depend upon the overall size and gender breakdown of the team. Sheets, pillowcases, and towels are provided.

* Earthwatch will honor each person’s assertion of gender identity, respectfully and without judgment. For both teen and adult teams, where logistics dictate single-sex accommodations or other facilities, participant placements will be made in accordance with the gender identity the participant specified on their Earthwatch Participant form and/or preferences indicated in discussions with Earthwatch.


Bathrooms are unisex and shared. They have flush toilets and private shower stalls with changing rooms. Showers have hot water heads.


All rooms have electricity. Electric sockets are 110 volts, (type C and N).


Open access Wi-Fi is available at the main station. The study areas usually have some cell coverage with an international plan in place (TIM is the only mobile operator that works in the region, prepaid card can be purchased at stores in Rio de Janeiro or at the airport).

Please note: Earthwatch encourages volunteers to minimize outgoing calls and immerse themselves in the experience; likewise, family and friends should restrict calls to urgent messages only. Emergency communications will be prioritized.


The field sites are 20 minutes from the field station. Volunteers can expect to walk 2km to reach most of the trails. There will be a land cruiser and van to reach more distant trails.


The accommodations are located within walking distance to a small village. The village has a few small bars where you can purchase cold drinks and other incidentals, but we encourage everyone to stay within REGUA during their team.


The accommodations have a dedicated cook staff that will prepare local Brazilian dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


The following are examples of foods you may find in the field. Variety depends on availability. We appreciate your flexibility.

  • Breakfast: May include bread, cold cuts, eggs, fruit, cereal, and coffee.
  • Lunch and Dinner: Beans, rice, soup, fried or cooked potatoes, salad, meat (beef, chicken or pork and substitute for vegetarians), vegetables, fruit, pasta, salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, grated beets, and carrots.
  • Snacks: Chocolate cake, pakora (peanut candy)
  • Beverages: Water, fruit juices. Please bring a reusable personal bottle for carrying drinking water to field sites. There is a filter that provides cold filtered potable water. Drinking tap water is not recommended.

Please alert Earthwatch to any special dietary requirements (e.g., diabetes, lactose intolerance, nut, or other food allergies, vegetarian or vegan diets) as soon as possible, and note them in the space provided on your volunteer forms. 

This project can cater to vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets.

Project Conditions


For weather and region-specific information, please visit Wunderground.com and search for your project location.

Essential Eligibility Requirements

All participants must be able to:

  • Follow verbal and/or visual instructions independently or with the assistance of a companion.
  • Take an active role in one’s own safety by recognizing and avoiding hazards if and when they arise (including, but not limited to, those described in Earthwatch materials and safety briefings). Always comply with project staff instructions and recommended safety measures.
  • Be able to effectively communicate to the staff if experiencing distress or need assistance.
  • Be able to get along with a variety of people from different backgrounds, often in close proximity, for the duration of the team.
  • Be comfortable being surrounded by a language and/or culture that is not your own.
  • Walk over uneven, forested, mountainous terrain for two to four hours for one to three miles (1.6 to 4.8 kilometers) per day, often in high temperatures and high humidity.
  • Enjoy being outdoors all day in all types of weather, including high temperatures and high humidity.
  • Carry personal daily supplies, such as lunch, water, and camera.
  • Help carry projects field equipment as livetraps and camera traps.
  • Get low enough to access and collect samples on the ground and in the brush for at least one hour a day every day.
  • Do without C-PAP machines for the length of the project, as the electricity is mostly reliable, but there are sometimes outages.
  • Enjoy teamwork and function cohesively within a group.

Health and Safety


At the field station, phone and email are available for emergency communications.

Earthwatch has a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week emergency hotline number. Someone is always on call to respond to messages that come into our live answering service.


Please be sure your routine immunizations are up to date (for example: diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella) and you have the appropriate vaccinations for your travel destination. Medical decisions are the responsibility of each volunteer and his or her doctor. Visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization for guidance on immunizations.

If traveling from countries or regions where yellow fever is endemic, you must have a certificate of vaccination.

Vaccination against COVID-19 is required for all participants. Staying up to date with your vaccinations, including receiving booster doses as applicable is strongly encouraged. 

Project Risks and Precautions


The land cruiser and van will, on occasion, transport volunteers over wet, winding, paved roads. Participants must wear seat belts whenever they are available and may not drive project vehicles.


The terrain is very hilly, and some trails are quite steep. Some trails can get very slippery, and the mud trails are sometimes difficult to navigate due to water and deep mud. Walking slowly and carefully can prevent injury. Bring appropriate footwear and remember that the hiking can be as strenuous or easy as you feel is appropriate. Please bring a minimum of one to two liters (approx. 33 to 100 ounces) of drinking water on the transects. Walk slowly, and rest frequently if overheated. You must always wear field boots and field clothes.


There are venomous snakes, some irritating plants, and plenty of biting and stinging insects. Snakebites are not common, but the use of tall rubber boots (not required) in the field and flashlights at night are good precautions. Strong insect repellent can be used to ward off mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, biting flies, and other insects. Most of the plants are harmless to people, but there are some plants that are poisonous and can cause rashes or have sharp spines or thorns. These will be pointed out to the volunteers.


Biting and/or stinging bees, wasps, bullet ants, scorpions, and spiders are all present in the research area. Team members will occasionally be bitten or stung, but these injuries are usually not very severe. If anyone develops an allergic reaction, he/she will be taken to the nearest clinic.


Diseases found in this region include hepatitis, typhoid, malaria, and rabies. You can decrease your risk of most diseases above by avoiding mosquito bites, wearing protective clothing and shoes, practicing good hygiene, and drinking only bottled or filtered water when appropriate. Whether you have been vaccinated or not, it is always important to avoid stray dogs. The pre-exposure vaccination for rabies does not eliminate the need for post-exposure medical attention and treatment, but it does provide additional protection against the disease in the event of a delay in treatment. In addition, bites or scratches should be immediately and thoroughly washed with soap and clean water. If you feel ill once you return from your trip, make sure you inform your doctor that you have recently returned from a tropical region

Please see the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) or the World Health Organization (who.int) websites for more information on these conditions and how to avoid them


At the time this briefing was printed, The CDC recommends a Yellow Fever vaccination for this particular area of Brazil. The project site is northeast of Rio De Janeiro and is in an area where Yellow Fever is Endemic. Please refer to the CDC website for vaccination suggestions: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/brazil, and consult your physician for specific recommendations.


It will be hot and humid. You will need to protect yourself from the sun with appropriate clothing and sunscreen (at least 30 to 60 SPF) and drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid dehydration. It can rain at any time of the year, so please bring light rain gear suitable for tropical climates. Those using hearing aid devices may find they don’t work properly.


Always stay with a group when on the expedition. Please leave valuables at home where possible, or properly secured while at the field station or research sites.

REGUA does have lockers that you can store valuables in, though you will need to bring your own lock (with keys or combination) to secure your items.


This project site is 40 minutes away from the nearest fully equipped hospital. If you are pregnant or have other conditions that could require emergency medical care, you should discuss with your physician before joining this project.


COVID-19 is an infectious disease. Although most people who have COVID-19 will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness, it can also cause severe illness and even death. Some people are at increased risk of severe illness. The COVID-19 virus spreads from person to person via close contact, primarily through exposure to the respiratory droplets of an infected person. Medication availability and treatment for COVID-19 varies from country to country and specific treatment options may not be possible in your destination.

Projects and participants fielding with Earthwatch commit to a number of enhanced safety measures as described in the COVID Disclosure Form. Enhanced safety measures may include physical distancing, wearing face masks, regular hand washing and surface sanitizing, heeding advice from project leadership or local authorities, adjusted logistics, and monitoring one’s own health throughout the expedition. If you get symptoms of COVID 19 or test positive while traveling you may be subject to quarantine and other local regulations that may disrupt your travel plans. Please plan for extended travel days.

Travel Planning


Rio de Janeiro—Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport, Brazil in front of International Departure gate. 

* Additional information will be provided by Earthwatch to meet your team. Please do not book travel arrangements such as flights until you have received additional information from Earthwatch.


Earthwatch strongly recommends that travelers investigate their destination prior to departure. Familiarity with the destination’s entry/exit requirements, visas, local laws, and customs can go a long way to ensuring smooth travel. The U.S. Department of State's Traveler’s Checklist and Destination Guides are helpful resources. For LGBTI travelers, the U.S. Department of State's LGBTI Travelers page contains many useful tips and links.


You are responsible for reviewing and abiding by the local COVID guidelines and regulations for your destination. This may include proof of testing upon arrival or departure, up to date vaccinations against COVID-19, including boosters, mandatory quarantine, or other requirements.

For information regarding Brazil, please visit Brazil - Traveler view | Travelers' Health | CDC and COVID-19 Information - U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Brazil (usembassy.gov)

Entry visa requirements differ by country of origin, layover, and destination, and do change unexpectedly. For this reason, please confirm your visa requirements at the time of booking and, again, 90 days prior to travel. Please apply early for your visa (we recommend starting 6 months prior to the start of your expedition). Refunds will not be made for volunteers canceling due to not obtaining their visa in time to meet the team at the rendezvous. You can find up to date visa requirements at the following website: www.travisa.com.

If a visa is required, participants should apply for a TOURIST visa. Please note that obtaining a visa can take weeks or even months. We strongly recommend using a visa agency, which can both expedite and simplify the process.

Generally, passports must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry and a return ticket is required.


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  • Ribeiro, M. C., Metzger, J. P., Martensen, A. C., Ponzoni, F. J., & Hirota, M. M. (2009). The Brazilian Atlantic Forest: How much is left, and how is the remaining forest distributed? Implications for conservation. Biological Conservation, 142(6), 1141–1153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2009.02.021
  • Rodrigues, R. R., Lima, R. a. F., Gandolfi, S., & Nave, A. G. (2009). On the restoration of high diversity forests: 30 years of experience in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Biological Conservation, 142(6), 1242–1251. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.biocon.2008.12.008
  • Araújo, E. J. G., Péllico Netto, S., Morais, V. A., David, H. C., Curto, R. A., & Scolforo, J. R. S. (2018). Métodos de amostragem de área variável para a regeneração natural de Eremanthus erythropappus (DC.) MacLeish. Floresta, 48(2), 265–276.
  • Conner, M. M., Saunders, W. C., Bouwes, N., & Jordan, C. (2015). Evaluating impacts using a BACI design, ratios, and a Bayesian approach with a focus on restoration. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 188(10). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-016-5526-6
  • Estes J.A. et al. Trophic downgrading of planet earth. Science, 333 (2011), pp. 301-306
  • Crouzeilles, R., Ferreira, M. S., Chazdon, R. L., Lindenmayer, D. B., Sansevero, J. B. B., Monteiro, L., … Strassburg, B. B. N. (2017). Ecological restoration success is higher for natural regeneration than for active restoration in tropical forests. Science Advances, 3(11), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1701345
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